Navigating bedtime with small children is no easy task, even when you do your best to follow advice from sleep experts and pediatricians. But if bedtime is a constant fight night after night, you might wonder what you’re doing wrong. And that’s when you need to hear from the real experts—the parents who’ve been there and done that. We polled parents for their very best, tried-and-tested sleep tips for kids so everyone can get some darn sleep.
Set yourself up for success
“Sunshine, dirt and water all day, every day.” – C. Munoz, mom of two
“Ensure the kids need to get adequate exercise.” – C. O’Mara, mom of five
Any parent will tell you that their kids sleep better after an active day, and research backs them up. Not only is regular exercise important for growing kids, it helps promote good sleep. Keep your child engaged and active during the day—not immediately before bedtime—and you’ll likely find they’re more than ready for bedtime.
“Make a nightly schedule and stick to it! Bedtime should be the same time every night.” – J. Pordon, dad of two
“Nightly routine is key! We turn on calming music, read, brush teeth, and sit in bed together to spend five minutes talking about the best part of our day. Doing this every night with your kids turns it into a habit and trains their brain that it’s time to shut down and go to sleep.” – J. Billet, mom of two
Not only is a regular nighttime routine an important part of good sleep hygiene, it may help your child’s behavior in general. Research shows that children with irregular bedtimes are more likely to have behavioral issues, including hyperactivity and acting out—and that will get worse as they age if bedtimes stay inconsistent.
Establish a calming routine—and be prepared to find what works
“We tried different things to figure out what worked. Now, we usually run the pups after dinner and then start the bedtime routine. We make sure the room is dark and turn on the sound machine. Oh, and we use lavender lotion after the bath—who knows if it helps, but it smells nice!” – M. Hudgens, mom of three
Sleep hygiene is all about consistent habits to promote good sleep, and kids are no exception. Spend some time figuring out what works well for your family. That might involve an evening walk to get out the final wiggles of the day, bath time, a gentle massage, brushing teeth, story time, prayers, a last drink of water, or a few other essential steps.
Remember to factor for things like light, temperature, and noise to create a calming environment for your little one to nod off quickly.
Know thy child
“Our oldest (13) is usually beyond wiped at the end of the day. He asks to go to bed with a tuck in and will often listen to a podcast or watch an animated movie for 15 minutes. He likes some light (like LEDs in his room) and background noise. Our youngest (11) still wants to be read to every night and have a good snuggle, with a total blackout in her room and a sleep mask.” – C. Munoz, mom of two
We all have our quirks, and smoothing any potential ruffles—think too much or too little light, distracting noise, or the absence of a favorite stuffed animal or blanket—before they become an issue can make bedtime easier for everyone. There may be a little trial and error here, but figuring out what specifically helps your child wind down can change everything.
Be savvy about nap time
“We got into a terrible habit with our toddler—late-afternoon naps! He’d conk out in the car when we were taking his older siblings to various after-school activities and have a major second wind come bedtime. We started driving him around the neighborhood after lunch so he’d nap earlier – game changer.” – J. Timmons, dad of four
While children, especially young children, need naps, be smart about structuring morning wake-up times to better schedule daytime sleeping. Otherwise, you may find yourself dealing with an energetic toddler who has zero interest in bedtime!
Run an evening bath
“We do bath time every night. Our son loves the water, so it’s a great time for him to relax while also having some fun.” – M. Moffat, mom of two
A nightly bath is a great way to transition from the day’s activities into rest. Warm water is relaxing, and a decline in body temperature afterward can help your child feel sleepy and ready for bed.
Slow down with story time
“One thing that works for me is laying in bed and telling a story to slowly wind down and keep their focus as they transition to sleep.” – K. Loos, mom of two
For busy families, evening story time can be an opportunity to enjoy a few quiet minutes together. Plus, there are major benefits to reading to your kids, including improved language skills and cognitive development. Make your bedtime story part of a soothing bedtime routine, with dim lighting, no electronics, and minimal distractions. And choose your book wisely—instead of action-packed stories with tons of silly voices, pick something a little repetitious and use a slow, even delivery. Save the more exciting stuff for when you aren’t trying to lull your child to sleep.
Tag team bedtime
“Not having me put them to bed! They are so much better if Dad does it and I’m not home. I must be a sucker for one more hug, kiss, story, potty, water, etc. and they push the limits with me.” – L. Pink, mom of two
If one parent is having little success getting kids to go to bed—and more specifically, to stay there—it might be time to outsource the job. Tag in the other parent, a grandparent, aunt or uncle, or the babysitter and see how that works. Your child may be a little better behaved with someone else.
When all else fails, try a little tech
““We found sleep meditations really helpful.” – B. Bamburak, mom of two
“Podcasts!” – L. Lu, mom of four
“They love the bedtime stories on the Calm app. I let them have their phones in bed only for the story. Then I go get the phones when they fall asleep. My youngest says she’s never finished a story. She always falls asleep before it’s over.” – A. Records, mom of two
There are a lot of recommendations against technology for kids, but sometimes parents just need a little extra help at bedtime. Listening to a relaxing sleep meditation or story from a device could be a helpful way to wind down, particularly if it’s supervised and limited to a certain length of time. Keep the screen dim and prioritize listening over watching.
The last word from Sleepopolis
Bedtime can feel like a constant struggle, and it’s nice to know you aren’t the only parent in the trenches. These tips worked for real parents, and you may find they work for you too. Just remember to be consistent, persistent, and patient. And remember—eventually, every kid falls asleep!